I haven’t bought a new board in three years. Of course, in that time I have picked up the occasional inheritance from missing housemates and yellowing pieces of crap from garage sales, but I haven’t had a brand-new, ding-free board since Christmas of 1998. I also haven’t sold a board since then. I can’t do it. Each of my boards has some special trait that I like, and I can’t bring myself to get rid of any one of them. So I have this quiver of about 10 beaten-up boards. That is what I have been riding for the last few years, and I was happy until my friend John bought a new board and let me ride it. Turns out I don’t suck at surfing as much as I thought I did; my boards just suck. Riding John’s boards made me realize it was time to spend the cash and get a new board.
Buying a new board is not an easy or quick process. It is a major decision and takes weeks of visiting surf shops and caressing the choices. You have to run your hand over every subtle curve and imagine how she will perform in each situation. For a week I did that, wasting the time of surf shop employees all over town. And then I decided that if I was buying a new board, I was going to go all out and get it custom shaped.
So I went to Dave Johnson. When I first walked into his workshop, Dave was hunched over a skill saw, machining a new leg for his remote control surfer. He ordered this new toy off the Internet and is obviously really stoked on it. The way Dave talks about this thing, making sections and doing cutbacks, you’d think he was telling real surf stories. Apparently the little guy got tubed at Campus Point, “pulled in too deep, almost made it out, but the wave pitched and he got tossed on the sand, snapping his leg.” You’ve got to wonder if in his 33 years of shaping surfboards Dave has maybe inhaled too many fumes.
We sat down and talked about what I wanted, what kind of surfer I was and what kind of waves the board would be ridden on. Dave asked most of the questions and I just said I wanted a magic board that would make me a good surfer. I am amazed that surfboards are still made this way. Examining my life I notice that almost every one of my possessions is made in a foreign country by people I will never meet and rarely think about. That I can walk down the street and sit down with the man who will shape my surfboard is a pleasant change.
That visit was not the end of the process. Because I was getting the board custom shaped I could have a design airbrushed on the foam board before the fiberglass was applied. I had an elaborate vision in my head of a scene that started underground with ants and made its way up to finish with a sun on the nose of the board. But I am a lousy artist, so I talked a female art studio major friend into helping me. We picked up the shaped foam the next day. Dave warned us against the artwork. He said he has seen relationships end over bad airbrush jobs and ugly surfboards, but I went ahead anyway, risking both the board and the relationship.
We spent most of that night working on the board. Well, I didn’t actually do much. Eventually I wasn’t even allowed in the room because of the squeals I made each time brush touched foam. At 4 a.m. it was finished and I was invited into the room – it looked phenomenal, better than I had imagined. We brought the board back to Dave for glassing and it will be ready next week, so check back and I’ll tell you how it surfs.